Calling All Normal Girls!

football, normal girls, fans

The water cooler is staying in the fridge this week as I was traveling most of yesterday and was unable to write our usual weekend review. A shame, since it was such a wild weekend of football!!! The NFL fully embraced Let It Snow as the song of the day, it seemed. But, we do have something else to talk about! And it is pretty exciting!

Now that we’ve (reluctantly) arrived at the last quarter of the regular season I’m starting to think about our offseason schedule (also reluctantly). My favorite idea so far? Normal Girls. Featuring the normal girls out there who LOVE football in a weekly fan column!

If you are a fan of football – high school, college, NFL, any level! – and would like to be featured as one of our normal girls, send an email to I’ll send you a brief questionnaire and ask you to send along a photo or two of yourself as a fan – at a game, in a jersey, etc – and just other basic info. It’s pretty low maintenance, but it should be fun!

So, who’s in?!

Ashley’s Rookie Season : Reviews and Blitzes

football, normal girls, rookie


Our friend Ashley is back with two more phenomenal questions! Let’s get started!

Q: When a play goes “under review” who reviews it? Just the refs? Who gets the final say?

Good question! The instant replay system was used for the first time back in 1986 and, while sometimes flawed, has almost unquestionably changed the game for the better. Football happens so fast. And the refs are only human. It’s unrealistic to expect them to get the call right every time based only on what they see in the moment. That’s where instant replay comes in.

There are two ways reviews happen. First, a head coach can challenge the ruling on the field and ask for an official review. He throws a red flag out on the field to indicate he is challenging the ruling. Coaches get two challenges per game. If he is wrong about a challenge (like if he thought a catch ruled a touchdown was actually a fumble and the replay shows a valid touchdown) his team loses a timeout. If he is right about both of their challenges (like if he thought a catch ruled a touchdown was actually a fumble and the replay shows that the ball was fumbled, and if he thought a player stepped out of bounds on a return when he was ruled inside and the replay shows he did step out) his team is awarded a third challenge.

Second, in the final two-minutes of each half or in overtime, a replay assistant sitting up in the booth can call for an official review, or a “booth review.” He has the time from the end of one play to the start of the next to call for a review. He buzzes a signal down to the head official who then “goes under the hood” to watch the replay from various angles and make a decision on the play.

The head official, or referee, makes the final call on all reviews.

For a much more in-depth (and very interesting!) read on all things instant replay, check out this post from Steelers Fever.

Q: What is a blitz?

The dictionary definition of a blitz is, “an intensive or sudden military attack,” and that’s pretty much what it translates to in the NFL as well.

During a blitz, multiple defenders rush to the quarterback in an attempt to sack him. A sack is a play in which the quarterback is tackled while still holding onto the ball as a passer, not as a runner. (So tackling a quarterback who is advancing the ball forward as a runner does not count as a sack). This both a) prevents the offense from completing a play and b) results in lost yardage (since the quarterback is located behind the line of scrimmage, or starting line, and the line of scrimmage will be moved back to where the quarterback was sacked to start the next play). It’s advantageous for the defense when it works. Here’s a visual:

football, normal girls, rookie

In this blitz, two defensive backs (the cornerbacks) and three linebackers are going to rush the quarterback in an attempt to sack him. This was a completely random designation; a blitz can happen with any combination of defensive players, although it usually does include defensive backs and linebackers, and often defensive ends, too.

The disadvantage to blitzing the quarterback comes if they don’t get the sack. If the quarterback is only pressured but still gets the ball off he will have a fairly open field to throw to. This is because a good percentage of the defenders who usually cover the middle and deep portions of the field are otherwise occupied at the front of the field trying to sack him.

Another good round, Ash! And don’t forget that you all can join in on the rookie fun and ask questions, too. Anything is fair game!

Ashley’s Rookie Season : Headsets and Touchdown Scorers

football, normal girls, rookie

Here we go with Round 4 of Ashley’s Rookie Season! If you’ve missed any of our previous sessions, you can find them all here:

Round 1

Round 2

Round 3

Ashley has two great questions today. Let’s dive in!

Q: The coaches have microphone headsets – who are they talking to and why?

A: There are lots of answers to this question, but we’ll start with the most relevant one first. The head coach is usually talking to coordinators who are up in the box (a press box up high in the stadium). They can see things from a much different vantage point than the head coach can and make different observations and play calls based on what they see from above. The coach can also get up-to-date stats on how effective the team is in any number of contexts – third down conversions, running plays on first downs, passing plays, etc – and makes decisions for future play calls based on those numbers. Basically, the head coach is engaged in a constant conversation with his staff in the box in order to collectively create the most effective game plan possible.

Another important microphone/headset scenario is the communication that takes place between the sidelines and the designated “live” helmet. One player from each team is allowed to have a live radio in his helmet through which he receives play calls from a coach – usually a coordinator or position coach, not the head coach, since he is in communication with the coordinators upstairs. On offense, not surprisingly, this player is almost always the quarterback. He usually gets the calls from the offensive coordinator or quarterbacks coach. On defense, also not surprisingly, this player is often a middle linebacker, who is like the quarterback of the defense. Similarly, he usually gets the calls from the defensive coordinator or linebackers coach.

The “live” helmets are designated by a green dot sticker on the back of the helmet. The lines of communication aren’t always open – during the 40-second play clock, the coaches have 25-seconds to communicate with the player wearing the live helmet. It automatically shuts off in the last 15-seconds.

Q: Is there an offensive player that is most-likely to score a touchdown?

There are lots of answers to this question, too! Most Likely to Score a Touchdown is a Football Superlative that anyone can win. There is no one position amongst the offensive “skill” players – wide receivers, running backs, tight ends – that is more likely to score a touchdown than any other. It is completely dependent on the team, the players, and the style of offense they play.

Let’s take a look at the 2012 season offensive scoring statistics. Arian Foster, running back for the Houston Texans, had the most touchdowns with 17 total – 15 rushing, 2 receiving. His skill set, combined with the Texans offense (and offensive line), made him most effective as a running back scoring rushing touchdowns.

The player with the second-most touchdowns was James Jones, wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers. He had 14, and they were all receiving touchdowns. Why? That’s the style of offense Green Bay plays: it’s a heavy-passing West Coast offense manned by the league’s best passer, Aaron Rodgers. At that time the Packers had one of the worst running games in the league. Passing was the name of the game, and James Jones is really, really good at that game, so he had a lot of receiving touchdowns as a wide receiver in a pass-happy offense.

Make sense? If you have any followup questions – or any completely unrelated questions! – feel free to leave them in the comments.

Ashley’s Rookie Season : Touchdowns, Wildcards, and Intentional Grounding

football, normal girls, rookie

 Did you miss a post? Check out Round One and Round Two, or get to know Ashley better!

Q. What makes a touchdown a touchdown? Does the player have to catch the ball in the end zone, run the ball into the end zone? Both? And what if a player is tackled in the end zone? Does the touchdown still count?

A. This is a great question…one I can’t believe hasn’t been answered here in over A YEAR of posts!!! Oh my word! What an oversight! Let’s get right to it.

The NFL, as we know, is a funny place filled with funny rules. This funny nature extends to touchdowns. In general, to score a touchdown, the football just needs to cross the plane of the goal line – the white line separating the end zone from the rest of the field. If the ball – with or without the ball-carrier who is holding it – crosses that line, it’s a touchdown. Think of a quarterback stretching the ball over the top of a huge pile to extend the ball across the goal line and score a touchdown. The quarterback may not have crossed the goal line but the ball did, and that’s all that matters.

However, if the ball is being thrown into the end zone and is caught by a receiver, the receiver needs to have two feet down in bounds and have full control of the ball to be called a touchdown. To your question – if he’s tackled in the end zone that’s fine; he just has to maintain control of the ball and have two feet touch in bounds. If he runs out of bounds (or falls/is tackled out of bounds) after he’s caught the pass and has had two feet down in the end zone, that’s fine, too.

Touchdowns are worth 6 points. Teams usually opt to kick the point after (PAT, Point After Touchdown) but can also choose to “go for 2” – get the football into the end zone from the 2-yard line for 2 points.

Q. What is a wildcard team?

A. To start, let’s chat about how the NFL is organized. The NFL is divided into two conferences, the AFC and the NFC. Each conference is divided into four divisions, North, South, East, and West. Each division has 4 teams. Thus, there are 32 teams in the NFL (16 in each conference, 4 in each division).

(For a free printable with all of that info, check out this post.)

Wildcard teams are the teams that squeak into the playoffs. Currently, 12 teams make the cut into the playoffs: each conference’s division winners (8 teams total) and the two teams from each conference with the highest record (4 teams total). Those 4 teams that didn’t win their division but had the highest record among non-divisional-winners within their conference are the wildcard teams.

Q. What is a grounding penalty? I heard something about a pocket and the ball clearing the line of scrimmage… (Eagles/Giants game – Manning had 3 of these)

A. Somewhere, Eli is making this face at the mention of his recent woes.

So, yes, Eli has been a good case study in intentional grounding, the penalty in question. Intentional grounding is a penalty called on the quarterback when he throws the ball a) from inside the pocket, b) short of the line of scrimmage, c) where there is no eligible receiver to catch the ball.

As a visual, picture the quarterback standing somewhere behind the offensive line and throwing a short pass to no one. That’s intentional grounding.

Why would a quarterback do that “intentionally”? Usually because he’s getting pressured by the defense. If he takes a sack (gets tackled by the defense while still holding the football), the new line of scrimmage will move backwards to wherever he was sacked. He doesn’t want to take that loss of yardage. So he will often try to “throw it away” – throw it to the sidelines as an incomplete pass. That’s legal. But if he tries to throw it away while he’s inside the pocket and it doesn’t travel past the line of scrimmage and there are no eligible receivers in the area, that’s intentional grounding.

Don’t try to think about it logically, since the logical conclusion is that there are no eligible receivers on the sidelines, either, so shouldn’t that be intentional grounding too? But it’s legal as long as the pass goes past the line of scrimmage. Intentional grounding has to meet all three requirements: inside the pocket, short of the line of scrimmage, thrown to a place where there are no eligible receivers.

And that’s Round Three! Questions, comments, concerns? High tail it over to the comments!

Ashley’s Rookie Season : False Start, Units, Field Goals, 12th Man

football, normal girls, rookie

Ashley is back with another great round of questions! Let’s get rolling!

Q: What does a player need to do for a false start to be called?

A: Perfect week for this question! Refer back to yesterday’s post, and be sure to print out the printable to keep handy, but the basic answer is that a false start is when anyone on the offensive line (the seven players on the line of scrimmage (starting line) for the offense) makes any sudden movement or jumps across the line prematurely before the ball has been snapped (transferred from the center to the quarterback). The opposite of a false start (which is called on the offense) is offsides (which is the same penalty but called on the defense).

(Were there enough parentheses in that answer for you? (Were there???))

Q: I know there’s offense and defense, because every sports team has that, but then football throws in this special teams thing? How many “teams” does each team have?

A: Oh, football. Always finding new ways to make life complicated.

There are 3 “teams” – called units – on each football team. There is the offense, the unit with the quarterback that tries to score points. There is the defense, the unit that is trying to stop the offense from scoring points (though their main job is to do this by scoring points themselves through interceptions, forced fumbles, safeties, etc). Then…there is special teams, the unit that gets the least respect.

Special teams is the unit that takes the field in any kicking situation. More often than not, most of the members of the special teams unit are members of the offensive or defensive unit as well. The main exceptions are the punter and kicker (or sometimes just one punter/kicker), who only has kicking responsibilities.

Q: Why would a team choose to go for a field goal instead of a touchdown?

A: It would seem like a team would always want to opt for the touchdown because it’s worth more points, right? But field goals are most often kicked on 4th down, a team’s last chance to earn a new first down. Coaches will opt for a field goal from kickable distance (anywhere from 20-50 yards, depending on the kicker) and go for the sure points rather than taking a chance on “going for it” and potentially failing and then having to turn the ball over to the other team right then and there. A good kicker has a better chance of kicking the football through the uprights from 47 yards away for 3 points than a good quarterback does of successfully throwing it into the end zone – in one try – from 47 yards away for 6 points (7 plus the point after).

The decision to kick or go for it on 4th down is all about strategy: what’s your field position, what’s the time on the clock, how badly do you need the points, and how confident are you in your kicker as opposed to your quarterback?

Q: How many players are allowed on the field at a time?

A: Eleven! You can have less if you choose (although no team would willingly choose that) but you can’t have more – if you do, it’s a 5-yard penalty.

Remember the “12th man” in Seattle? This is a term their fans usually use to describe their influence on the game; their boisterous, deafening presence is like having a 12th man on the field.

Alright, that’s a wrap for this week. Go forth in confidence, rookies!

Ashley’s Rookie Season: Downs, Tackling, Contact, and Home Field Advantage

football, normal girls, rookie

If you missed the scoop on Ashley’s Rookie Season, check out this post!

Ashley got this party started in great style; she came up with a bunch of great questions! Here’s our first round of questions and answers from her rookie season as a football fan.

Q. Whats the deal with downs? Is it really that the team has to move 10 yards in a certain number of tries – its 4 tries right?

A. This has to be the question that haunts most football rookies – what the heck is a down, and why is it so important?!

For starters, Ashley’s right – it’s 10 yards in 4 tries. But here’s an in-depth explanation from the Basics of Offense post:

The offense has four chances, called “downs,” to advance the ball ten yards. If they do, they receive a new set of downs and the opportunity to continue trying to reach the end zone to score.

Once the offense starts their drive, they have four chances, called “downs,” to move the ball 10 yards from where they started (this place is called “the line of scrimmage”). Each play is then calculated by what chance (down) the offense is on and how many yards they have left until they reach 10 yards total. Once they reach or exceed the 10 yards in one set of downs, they get a new set – four more chances to move the ball 10 more yards.

Stay with me! Here’s an example!

Let’s say the offense is starting their drive on their own 20 yard line (a very common occurrence). (Just a note – the 50 yards of field from the offense’s end zone = their “own” side of the field. The 50 yards of field on the defense’s side of the end zone = the defense’s territory.) The ball will be placed on the 20 yard line, and the imaginary line extending from the ball to both sidelines is the line of scrimmage. The offense needs to reach or exceed the 30 yard line, which means they’ve gained at least 10 yards total from where they began (at the 20 yard line), over the course of the next 4 downs to receive a new set of downs and therefore another opportunity to score. You will know how far the offense needs to go to gain a new set of downs thanks to the magic of technology: they need to reach or exceed the bright yellow electronic line on the field, which indicates how far the offense has to go to get a first down.

The first play is called “1st and 10,” because it’s the offense’s first down (chance) and they still have 10 yards to go to get a new set of downs. Let’s say they hand the ball off to a running back and gain 3 yards. The next play would be called “2nd and 7,” because it’s their second chance and the running back gained 3 of the 10 yards needed for a new set of downs, so the offense still has 7 yards left to go before they earn a new set of downs. 10 – 3 = 7. See! 1st grade math! You can do this!!!

Ok, so it’s now 2nd and 7. Since the offense started at the 20 yard line, we know that they are now at the 23 yard line because they gained 3 yards on the last play. Let’s say the quarterback throws a quick pass out to a wide receiver who catches it and gets tackled at the 25 yard line. It’s a 2 yard gain. So what’s the new down and distance?

It you answered 3rd and 5, you’re right! It’s now the offense’s 3rd chance, and they’ve gained 5 total yards (3 on 1st down, 2 on 2nd down), so 10 – 5 = 5 yards left to go.

So it’s 3rd and 5. The quarterback drops back to pass, but he doesn’t find anyone open. He sees a small hole in the defense and keeps the ball himself, trying to run through the hole to gain at least 5 yards. But he’s tackled at the 29 yard line. He only gained 4 yards.

The new down and distance? 4th and 1.

Are you still with me? Because we’re going to make things a little more complicated now that we’ve reached 4th down. Re-read that last section again and then meet me at the next paragraph.

Ready? Let’s move on to 4th down!

When a team reaches 4th down, it’s not as simple as trying one last time to get a first down. If the offense tries and fails on 4th down, they surrender possession of the football right where they are – no kicking or punting – to the other team. So in this situation, if the offense were to go for it on 4th and 1 at their own 29 yard line and the quarterback throws an incomplete pass for no gain, that means the other team would take over at the offense’s 29 yard line, giving them excellent field position to score. They’d already be within field goal range and aren’t even 30 yards away from the end zone. Unless a team is desperate, you’d rarely see an offense “go for it” on 4th down when they are so deep in their own territory.

What you’d normally see in this situation is the offense punting the ball – kicking the ball to the other team – to start the other team’s new possession. This is what we call a “3 and out.” The offense tried to advance the ball 3 times, failed to get a first down, and then had to punt the ball away.

Let’s switch things up for a moment and pretend that the offense isn’t on their own 29 yard line, they’re on the other teams 29 yard line. In that situation, the offense has two options on a 4th and 1 play: they can try for a field goal, which would be kicked from the 46 yard line (because you have to add 17 yards to the line of scrimmage to account for the length of the end zone and where the players line up), a fairly standard field goal attempt. But the offense might also try to go for it on 4th down to try and gain the one yard they need for a new set of downs. This makes sense for 2 reasons: 1. If they make it, they’re in great field position to try and score on the next set of downs. 2. If they don’t, the other team gets the ball right where they are, on the offense’s 29 yard line, which isn’t giving them too much of an advantage in terms of field position.

Let’s review. When 4th down comes to call, a team has these options:

1. PUNT. This happens most often when a team is on their own side of the field (the 50 yards connected to their own end zone) or fairly close to it.

2. KICK A FIELD GOAL. This happens most often when a team is within field goal range (30-50 yards is typical length for NFL kicks) and doesn’t want to give the other team the ball where they currently are. (Although it should be noted that if the offense misses the field goal, the other team gets the ball at the spot of the kick (not at the 4th down line of scrimmage), unless the kick is from the 20 yard line or closer, in which case the other team would get the ball at the 20 yard line.)

3. GO FOR IT. This happens most often when the yardage is short (4th and 1 or 4th and inches) and the team believes they can either convert (get the 1st down) or hand the ball over on downs without sacrificing too much field position.

I know that’s a lot to swallow on the first question, but if you can get the whole downs concept, your whole football watching experience is going to improve dramatically. For real.

Q. Why is tackling important/necessary?

A. Let’s start from scratch: tackling is the act of a defensive player stopping the progress of an offensive player by forcing him to the ground in a legal manner. The art of tackling has been lost in recent years; you see a lot of guys arm-tackling – just grabbing at ball carriers with their arms as they pass by – instead of tackling with their whole bodies.

Good tackling is essential in the NFL. Why? Because without it, ball carriers run amok all over the field, scoring points at will. Football would be pretty boring if not for tackling.

Q. What is illegal contact? 

A. GREAT question. Illegal contact is when defensive player (usually a cornerback or safety) messes with an offensive player (usually a wide receiver) after he’s 5-yards from the line of scrimmage and before the ball is in the air. Defenders can “jam” (or try to block) receivers at the line of scrimmage, but once the receiver has advanced 5-yards away from the line, it’s hands-off. Defenders also can’t interfere with receivers while running routes down the field in an attempt to catch a pass. Contact after 5-yards and before the ball has been thrown  = illegal contact.

What’s the difference between illegal contact and pass interference, you might wonder? Pass interference is a penalty that can be called on offensive or defensive players, and it occurs after the ball is in the air.

Got it?

Q. Why is it basically impossible to beat the Seahawks at home?

A. The Seahawks have harnessed the power of home field advantage, the unique ability for the home team to play better and have a higher win percentage at home than they do on the road. In Seattle, the structure of the stadium and the dedication of the fans (deemed the “12th man” for being an extra presence on the field) (each unit is only allowed to field 11 players, hence the “12th man” nickname) have created an atmosphere which even the best road teams find nearly impossible to overcome.

Just how powerful are the Seattle faithful at CenturyLink field? As per Peter King’s MMQB column the game against the 49ers, “got to 136.6 decibels in the third quarter, 16.6 decibels louder than the sound generated by a jet engine on an open runway.” At that noise level, the opposing team can’t think straight, let alone hear calls from the quarterback or the sidelines.

That’s a wrap for the first round of questions! Rookies: how did you do? Was this helpful? Be on the lookout for another round next week!